Authors: Janet Wellington
Tags: #romance novel
“Really, it’s nothing. Looks worse than it is.”
“I should have warned you about him,” Jared said, wishing like hell he’d trusted his own instincts and cautioned her the minute Hank had had that first dance.
“I'm a big girl, Jared.”
Jared flinched at the offended tone in her voice. “I only meant that he's very good at taking advantage of innocents—”
“Turn here,” she interrupted. “You can let me off at the sidewalk there, in front of the peach stucco one.” She pointed at a small, two-story apartment complex.
“Look, I didn't mean to insult you. It's just that Hank had it in his head that you were going to be his latest conquest and—”
“—and someone like me certainly wouldn't be able to handle him,” she finished
In her voice he heard a hint of…he had no idea what. But, clearly, her reaction wasn’t good.
Jared shook his head. Leave it alone, he told himself. He had no right to…
His mind was swimming, confused, baffled. He wasn’t used to feeling whatever it was he was feeling. Like the rug was being pulled out from under him, he decided, and that he’d completely lost his footing somehow.
He pulled his truck to a gentle stop.
Lacey let out a loud sigh, breaking the silence. “It's been a long night and I just need it to end. Really, I’m fine. Hank grabbed my wrists a little too hard. That’s all. Nothing to worry about. I appreciate the ride home.”
Jared opened his door, intending to walk Lacey to her front door.
“I'm fine,” she assured him, placing a hand on his arm to stop him. Then she quickly opened the door, got out and closed it with a thud.
With his left foot still on the pavement, Jared paused. It was obvious she didn’t want to talk, and didn’t want his help. Now was the time to let it go.
To let her go.
He waited until he saw her safely go inside, then drove away. At least Hank had shown his true colors quickly. For that, he was grateful.
But why did he feel that things were unfinished between him and Lacey?
Inside her studio apartment, her back against the door, Lacey finally allowed the tears to escape from beneath her tightly closed eyes. Hank was a ass, sure, but she was an idiot.
She wiped the tears from her cheeks. Hank didn't deserve her tears, she thought angrily, then shivered as she looked at her wrists.
When she’d declined his invitation to go home with him instead of him taking her home, she’d naively thought he would accept a polite “no thanks.” Then when he’d tried to kiss her and she’d turned away, her wrists were suddenly behind her back in a painful vice grip, immobilizing her before she could even think.
As he’d pushed her against the wall, his body hard against hers, she couldn’t believe what was happening. The sour smell of his breath was nauseating, but adrenalin had kicked in enough for her to threaten “the family jewels” if he didn't let go right now. With an unpleasant belch, he’d released her and mumbled
what a bitch
after her as she’d stormed away, her emotions a sickening mixture of humiliation and fury.
Throbbing pain reminded her of the need to ice her bruised wrists, a manifest of her naïveté. She shook her head in frustration as she walked into the kitchenette, turned on the faucet and ran cold water on her wrists at the sink.
Looks are deceiving, she reminded herself. Or maybe he’d just had too much to drink.
Or maybe I just don't know how to pick men.
The sound of the phone disturbed her thoughts and sent her heart racing. Who would call at the late hour? Wiping her hands on a towel, Lacey snatched the phone from the wall before its second ring.
“What are you doing home? I was expecting the machine. I was just going to leave a message and tell you my phone died and leave another number in case you needed to get in touch with me.”
Relieved to hear Kandy's voice and not a stranger's describing some horrible emergency or a relative calling to say who had just died, Lacey laughed. “Hello to you, too.”
“What are you doing there? I left right after the last set to take Brianna home, then meet Luke for coffee. He said you and Hank were—”
“Why the hell is everyone assuming Hank and I are a…a…couple?” She winced at her own description. “Is there some sort of rule about dancing with someone and all of a sudden you're an item?”
“Lacey, what's wrong? Are you all right?”
Lacey counted to five. Why
she so angry?
“I'm just tired. Hank was so sure I was going home with
, and Jared thinks I'm an
“Wait. Jared? The bass player? What's he got to do with anything? Stop. Back up. Talk to me…”
Lacey shouldered the phone so she could take a bag of peas from the freezer. She wrapped it in a paper towel and put it on the table, then sat down and rested her throbbing wrists on it.
“C’mon. It’s me. Talk to me,” Kandy repeated softly.
“When Hank agreed to be in the auction tonight—”
“Right. But that’s good, isn’t it?”
“He said he would as long as I promised to bid on him and win. I didn’t say yes…or no. I figured I’d deal with that at the event. I didn’t want to commit, you know?”
“But then at the end of the night he assumed I was going home
him tonight—he wasn’t just giving me a ride to my place—and he…he wouldn't take no for an answer.”
“Lacey. What do you mean? What happened? Oh, I never should have left you—”
“Stop. You know that self-defense class we took at the mall? Well I almost got the opportunity to try out a groin kick. Worked like a charm.”
“Geez, Lacey, did he hurt you or—”
“No…no…I'm fine, really. Just mad and upset. He seemed…well,
…you know?” She sniffed back fresh tears. Maybe she
an innocent, like Jared had said. Right now she
feel naive and a little stupid. Had she just been fooling herself about Hank? Been blinded by his attention? Fooled by his good looks and charm? It seemed pretty obvious after the fact.
“You’re sure you’re okay?”
“Yes. He grabbed my wrists is all. Nothing serious—”
“You have frozen peas in the house?”
Lacey laughed. She’d shared with Kandy her remedy of using bagged frozen veggies for swelling and pain, which Kandy used frequently after a long day doing hair wearing ridiculously high heels.
“Icing my wrists right now. I’m sure he didn’t mean to…” She paused, really thinking through what had happened, replaying it in her mind. “I’m sure he’d had too much to drink and didn’t know his own strength.”
“Still, he shouldn’t have—”
“I know. Let’s just not blow it out of proportion, okay? I’m fine. Nothing happened.” Lacey felt a chill race up her spine at what
have happened. But, she’d been in a public place, right?
“So, what about the auction?” Kandy asked.
“He knows the rehearsal is Thursday night. I guess I'll wait and see if he shows. But maybe I should leave a message at the club to tell him not to come. What do you—” Lacey paused as she listened to a muffled voice in the background as though Kandy had put her hand over the receiver. “Kandy?”
“Sorry. I'm here. Luke's here too,” she whispered. “Now I
feel bad about deserting you—how did you get home, anyway?”
“Luke says he's a good guy, by the way. Really nice about filling in and all.”
“He's not my…type.” Lacey yawned loudly, hoping Kandy would get the hint. “And right now I'm only interested in Mr. Sandman. You two have fun. I'll see you Monday, Kandy. Thanks for calling.”
Lacey listened to the soft click of the phone. At least one of us is lucky in love, she thought, stifling a real yawn this time. She’d been lucky, too, that Jared had been right there ready to rescue her.
If she had the power to rewind the last week, knowing what she knew now, well, maybe things could be different.
No, even though Jared was single, he wasn’t what she needed or wanted in her life. Now or ever. He was just a nice guy, and she needed to leave it at that.
Her wrists no longer throbbing and her mind feeling more at ease now that she’d decided it was all just a big misunderstanding—that Hank probably had no idea he’d even hurt her—Lacey put the peas back in the freezer, then slipped out of her newly christened “unlucky dress” and crawled between cool sheets. She would worry about Hank and the auction some other time.
“What are you doing here?”
“I was worried about you.” Jared's voice sounded velvety and far away, so soft and soothing.
She stared into eyes the color of clouds gathering before a spring storm. In their smoldering depths she saw a blatant invitation. She reached up to run her fingers through his hair, hair the color of chocolate. His left eyebrow rose a fraction and he gave her a smile that sent her pulse racing.
A summer breeze fluttered gossamer curtains and candlelight flickered. A romantic glow bathed the room.
“Turn over and let me rub your back. You look tense,” he whispered.
Lacey found it impossible not to return his disarming smile, then quickly heeded his request, repositioning herself on her stomach. She wrapped her hair in a quick knot at the top of her head.
She smelled lemons.
“I'll warm the lotion a little for you.”
Next, she heard the sound of his hands rubbing together—slick, slippery sounds. Murmuring her thanks, she moved her arms to her sides as he readjusted the sheet to drape at her waist. Soon all she felt were his hands, slick with lotion, sliding in even, languid strokes up her spine and down her arms. He kneaded her shoulders and neck until she groaned with pleasure.
“That's better, isn't it?”
She didn't respond at once; her tongue felt thick. She searched for words. “Your hands are amazing.”
He continued with steady, gentle strokes until every patch of skin above her waist tingled with delight. Gently he pulled the sheet down, down, down. His intimate touch moved to rub her thighs. Then her calves.
“Your curves are beautiful,” he whispered.
Quivering warmth began to pool between her thighs and her thoughts became one wish: that he would touch her…
As if he could read her thoughts, Lacey felt the whisper of a touch between her thighs, and when Jared's hands spread her legs further apart, she didn't resist.
“So soft, so sweet,” he whispered.
She felt a dizzying tingle that quickly escalated. Suddenly she was soaring, riding lovely spasms, rejoicing at the attainment of her wishes.
Lacey's eyes flew open.
“Wait!” she called to the dark. Her blood throbbed in her veins as she suddenly remembered the intimacy of her dream, her legs still quivering from her dream-climax. She closed her eyes, wanting to return to the dream…to him.
Lacey tossed and turned the rest of the night, finally giving up on the idea of sleeping in when the first light of day filled her bedroom. Feeling a strange combination of frustration and satisfaction, she got up, showered, and made herself a huge breakfast. She indulged in a veggie scramble, steamed potatoes, freshly squeezed orange juice, and a full pot of Kona coffee.
“There's enough here for two men and a boy,” she said to herself as she dished up the food. She'd always found it difficult to cook for one, her refrigerator perpetually filled with plastic containers of dibs and dabs of leftovers.
Determined to forget her Saturday night experience at the club
her sexy dream, Lacey filled her day with favorite old movies, buttered popcorn, and chatty phone calls to friends and relatives.
That night she slept a restful, dreamless sleep, and by the next morning she felt like she was back on track.
In the stockroom of the salon, Lacey and Kandy sorted dozens of bottles of hair color and retail products that had just arrived. A thankful, mindless task to fill the rest of the afternoon, she thought. Perfect.
The auction rehearsal was in two hours and she still had no idea if Hank would be there. Time would tell. Since her hostile altercation with him, she hadn't been back to the Rockin' Ranch or called, and he had made no attempt to contact her. Part of her was immensely grateful, preferring to face the auction committee than to be in the same room with him again.
And even though she had stopped blaming herself, part of her wanted desperately to learn from what had happened, so she had continued to force herself to analyze her actions, her goal to determine how it could have been prevented. Another part of her wished she could just forget about it.